DUNEDIN, Fla. – Edwin Encarnacion has a number in mind.
“I want to hit 40 homers,” the Toronto Blue Jays slugger quipped Friday morning before the club’s first full squad workout.
How about a number for a contract?
“No,” he said smiling. “We don’t have (one) yet.”
All that’s to come, perhaps in negotiations for an extension that could take place in the next week or two, but that was the extent of the drama as Encarnacion went through the first day of full-squad workouts Friday at Blue Jays camp.
Like fellow slugger Jose Bautista, the 33-year-old is a pending free agent at season’s end, and made it clear his preference is to stay put.
“I want to stay on this team, I love this team, I love this city but it (doesn’t) depend on me,” he said. “It depends what they’re thinking. I hope we get it done so I can stay here for the rest of my career.”
To that end he said talks hadn’t yet taken place with the Blue Jays, but repeated his deadline of the regular season for discussions.
His current deal, one that will have paid him $37 million over four years by season’s end, was negotiated during the 2012 campaign and he doesn’t want to go through that again.
“I want to concentrate on helping this team win games,” Encarnacion said. “I don’t want to talk anything about contracts throughout the season, because I want to be 100 per cent focused on my game.”
Especially since he said he feels 100 per cent healthy right now after off-season surgery to repair a sports hernia that first flared up in July, and had to be managed the rest of the campaign.
There was also the finger injury that lingered over the final two months of the season, plus some leg issues earlier in the year, which made the .277/.372/.557 he slashed with 39 homers and 111 RBIs all the more impressive.
Even when Encarnacion wasn’t at his best, he still managed to play in 146 games and find a way to contribute.
“I learned a lot because when you’re on the field, you can do a lot of different things to help this team win games,” he said. “When you’re not playing, there’s nothing you can do to help the team, that’s why I tried to stay in the game no matter what happened to me.
“I tried to do the best I could do to be on the field every day.”
That trait is something that helped the Blue Jays immensely last season, as players up and down the lineup fought through injuries to keep playing. Of the club’s position players, only Devon Travis missed a significant chunk of time with a serious shoulder injury that truncated his season.
“Everybody talks about five tools in baseball. In my opinion there’s really six,” said Josh Donaldson, who appeared in 158 games last year, second only to Kevin Pillar’s 159. “And the sixth tool is being able to stay on the field. Because if you have five tools but you aren’t able to go out there and play, what does it matter?”
Manager John Gibbons closely monitored all the issues Encarnacion worked through, and was particularly impressed with the way he handled the sprained ligament in his left middle finger. Such injuries are particularly painful when swinging the bat and Gibbons appreciated the “he way sucked it up and it really didn’t affect him too much.”
“They all won’t do that,” continued Gibbons. “I’m not specifically talking about who we’ve got on our team, but in other places I’ve been, there are some guys that won’t do it. You don’t want to make the injury bad, you’ve got to be smarter than that – but in the game of baseball you play so many games, every day, you’re going to be banged up. You’re going to have limitations, but your job is to go out there and play when you can and you deal with it. Your team is better off when you have enough of those guys.”
In Encarnacion’s case, being able to stay in the field has allowed him to rank second in the majors in home runs (151) and RBIs (423), fourth in slugging (.549) and eighth in OPS (.919) since 2012.
That type of consistent production will see him rewarded handsomely in his next contract, whether it’s by the Blue Jays or another club.
Encarnacion, of course, is hoping that’s with the Blue Jays, and that close friend Bautista remains in the locker beside him for years to come, too.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, “but I’d love to see that happen.”